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AP Decision Notes: What to expect in Texas’ state and presidential primaries

WASHINGTON (AP) — Less than a week after staging rival events on the banks of the Rio Grande River along the U.S.-Mexico border, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will face voters on the Texas primary ballot in a state that has openly clashed with the Biden administration over how to address a record number of illegal border crossings.

The dueling Rio Grande trips are an indication not only that Biden and Trump are already looking beyond the primaries to a likely rematch of their 2020 campaign but also that the issues of immigration and border security will continue to be a dominant topic as in recent elections.

Trump has made illegal immigration a central theme of all his presidential campaigns. Earlier this year, he helped scuttle a bipartisan Senate package that coupled border security measures with aid for Ukraine, arguing it would hand Democrats a political win and calling it a “ death wish for the Republican Party.”

For his part, Biden recently has adopted a more aggressive tone on the issue, saying he would shut down the border if he could and mulling unilateral executive actions that progressives in his party have said are reminiscent of Trump.

Texas is one of the biggest electoral prizes on Super Tuesday, when 16 states and American Samoa hold nominating contests to help anoint the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates to compete in November. Trump once again will face former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who has lost the first six contests this year. Biden faces U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips and self-help author Marianne Williamson, neither of whom has cracked into double-digit territory in any contest where Biden has appeared on the ballot.

Texans will also decide several key state races on Super Tuesday, most notably the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, where U.S. Rep. Colin Allred of Dallas and state Sen. Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio lead a crowded field of candidates hoping to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in November. Democrats view Texas as one of their only opportunities to upset an incumbent and preserve their fragile majority. The race heads to a May 28 runoff if no candidate wins a vote majority. Cruz, who faces relatively unknown challengers in his primary, survived a surprisingly strong challenge in 2018 from former Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke by only 2.5 percentage points.

Here’s a look at what to expect on election night:

ELECTION DAY

The Texas presidential and state primaries will be held on Super Tuesday, March 5. All polls close at 7 p.m. local time, but Texas is located in both the central and mountain time zones. Almost the entire state closes at 8 p.m. ET, but El Paso and Hudspeth counties in the westernmost tip of the state close at 9 p.m. ET.

WHAT’S ON THE BALLOT

The Associated Press will provide coverage for the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries as well as key state races. The Democratic presidential candidates are Biden, Phillips, Williamson and five others. The Republican candidates include Trump, Haley, Florida businessman David Stuckenberg, “uncommitted” and former candidates Ryan Binkley, Chris Christie, Ron DeSantis, Asa Hutchinson and Vivek Ramaswamy. Among the notable state races are the Democratic primary for U.S. Senator, various primaries for U.S. House, state Senate and state House, judicial offices, railroad commissioner and the state board of education.

WHO CAN VOTE

Any registered voter may participate in either primary. Voters in Texas do not register by party. If a race is forced to the May 28 runoff, voters in the runoff must vote with the same party as they did in Tuesday’s primary.

DELEGATE ALLOCATION RULES

There are 244 pledged Democratic delegates at stake in Texas, and they’re awarded according to the national party’s standard rules. Fifty-three at-large delegates are allocated in proportion to the statewide vote, as are 32 PLEO delegates, or “party leaders and elected officials.” The state’s 38 congressional districts have a combined 159 delegates at stake, which are allocated in proportion to the vote results in each district. Candidates must receive at least 15% of the statewide vote to qualify for any statewide delegates, and 15% of the vote in a congressional district to qualify for delegates in that district.

Republicans have 161 total delegates, of which 150 are at stake on Super Tuesday. The candidate who receives a majority of the statewide vote wins all 36 statewide delegates at stake in the primary. If no candidate receives a vote majority, those 36 delegates are allocated proportionally, although the exact method depends on how many candidates surpass the 20% threshold. Each of the 38 congressional districts awards three delegates, using similar rules.

DECISION NOTES

Biden won a competitive 2020 primary by about 5 points over U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders as part of a string of Super Tuesday victories that cemented his front-runner status. He carried the Dallas and Houston areas, as well as most of the smaller counties across the state. Sanders won in the Austin and San Antonio areas and in counties along the southwest border. Those are the places where a strong candidate might challenge Biden from his left flank.

Trump placed a distant second in the 2016 primary behind favorite son Cruz. Haley won’t be able to replicate a sweeping win over Trump as Cruz did, so to eke out an upset victory, she may be better off borrowing a page from the Sanders playbook: win in the state’s liberal, self-described “weird” areas. To do so, she would need to attract crossover votes from Democrats and independents uninterested in participating in the Democratic primary. But even so, she would need to run competitively in moderate swing areas and some lean-Republican areas, a feat she’s been unable to accomplish after five contests.

The AP does not make projections and will declare a winner only when it’s determined there is no scenario that would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap. If a race has not been called, the AP will continue to cover any newsworthy developments, such as candidate concessions or declarations of victory. In doing so, the AP will make clear that it has not yet declared a winner and explain why.

Non-presidential races on Tuesday where there are multiple candidates and no one receives a vote majority will head to a May 28 runoff. This could delay winner calls throughout the ballot, including the Democratic U.S. Senate primary. Runoff-eligible races in which the leading candidate hovers near the 50% mark may not be called until additional votes are counted, even if the front-runner leads the rest of the field by a significant margin. The AP will either call winners in races in which a candidate has clearly received more than 50% of the vote or declare that no candidate has received a majority and that the race will advance to a runoff.

Winner declarations in any statewide contest will not be made before the last polls are scheduled to close in El Paso and Hudspeth counties at 9 p.m. ET. The rest of the state closes an hour earlier and usually tabulates a significant number of votes during that time before the last polls close. AP may call races between 8 and 9 p.m. ET in districts that are entirely in the central time zone.

In the 2020 presidential primary, about a third of total ballots had been counted by the final poll close time.

WHAT DO TURNOUT AND ADVANCE VOTE LOOK LIKE

Turnout in the 2022 gubernatorial primaries was about 6% of registered voters in the Democratic primary and about 12% in the Republican primary.

As of Feb. 26, nearly 307,000 ballots had been cast before Election Day in the Democratic primary and more than 623,000 in the Republican primary. In the 2022 gubernatorial primaries, pre-Election Day voting made up about 58% of the total vote in the Democratic contest and about 53% in for Republicans.

HOW LONG DOES VOTE COUNTING USUALLY TAKE?

In the 2020 presidential primary, the AP first reported results at 8:10 p.m. ET, or 10 minutes after polls closed in most of the state. By the time polls closed in the final two counties at 9 p.m. ET, about 33% of the vote had been tabulated. The election night tabulation ended at 3:21 a.m. ET with about 93% of total votes counted.

ARE WE THERE YET?

As of Super Tuesday, there will be 132 days until the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, 167 days until the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and 245 until the November general election.

Robert Yoon, The Associated Press


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